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Liza Coe

Educator, NASA Ames Education Division

“It’s not a life – it’s an adventure!”

For over 20 years now, I’ve been making my way to NASA Ames nearly every weekday morning – with the exception of a few swing and graveyard shifts – and also vacations! I began my career designing and developing computer imagery system (CGI) applications for flight simulation at NASA Ames’ Vertical Motion Simulator ( This work included development of extremely high fidelity imagery for fixed wing and rotorcraft simulation, as well as head-up and head-down displays for the Space Shuttle and military applications. I later focused on incorporating graphic visual displays into wind tunnel data representation.

Having decided to enact my not-yet-middle-age crisis on the career front, I took leave for one year to attend Stanford’s Teacher Education Program (STEP) to earn a Master’s in Education as well as teaching credentials in mathematics and computer science. After returning to Ames I joined the Education Division and focused on the development of teacher education workshops. However, I had been seriously bitten by the academia bug and returned to Stanford’s PhD program in Curriculum and Teacher Education, focusing on science education. The day before we leave for Chile, I will hopefully be able to secure that elusive sheepskin and celebrate with a nice long nap on the plane ride down!

My research has focused on how teachers leverage informal education experiences inside their classrooms. For my dissertation I was lucky enough to be able to work with teachers who, with their students, participated in week-long residential camps at the Marin Headlands – part of the Golden Gate National Receation Area and one of the components of the environmental education-based Yosemite National Institutes. While about half of my research time was spent doing classroom observations and interviews, I got to spend the other half hiking around the gorgeous Headlands and learning as much natural science as I could absorb. My PhD minor is in geology, so I got my fill of subduction zone morphology courtesy of the San Andreas Fault which has left its mark in numerous ways on the Headands.

Prior to the arrival of my two sons I took advantage of every field experience I could talk my way into. I spent several months on a tiny little island off the Katmai coast in Alaska excavating, identifying and cataloguing artifacts from an Indian civilization thousands of years old. Another favorite was spending a summer (their winter) in Western Australia tracing the Devonian extinction boundary in massive limestone and marble exposed reefs. Wanderlust has led me to spend many months (over time) working in and exporing the desert southwest as well as Alaska and, of course, California. If you ever need a travel guide on the West Coast, just let me know!

Now my time and energy (outside of work, of course!) is spent being mom to my two explorers-in-training. I am proud to say that they are world travelers and don’t think twice about taking long plane rides to interesting places. They were both born in Russia and, since coming home have dragged their small carry-ons with Mom to Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, and just about everyplace in between. In between trips they go to kindergarten while Mom earns the money for the next trip!

Spaceward Bound is an incredibly opportunity for me to combine my love for exploration and travel with my passion for education and working with teachers!!

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Editor: Brian Day
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated:June, 2006
Students Contact: Jennifer Heldmann
Teachers Contact: Liza Coe